Thursday, 10 March 2016

Self-directed / Transformational / Experiential Learning

Type of learning might be my favourite component of this course -- self-directed learning is more complex than it seems. In this article, the author points out Grow's stages of self-directed learning and points to the different roles an instructor takes during each stage, from authoritative and reeling in learners with specific assignments in stage one, all the way to facilitating and collaborating in stage four. I believe this would be the most rewarding component for me in teaching -- witnessing the progress and gradually "stepping away" as learners took more responsibility for their learning and for their projects.

I know I was only supposed to write on one of the three types of learning, but this article on transformative learning was so great. When I first read about transformative writing in the text it grabbed my attention and inspired me to want and strive for this type of learning in my classroom. Can we influence people into a deeper sense of change by what we teach? I hope so.

I liked what Laurence Cohen said in this video about transformative learning. He engages his students on the assumption that they experience the learning process as he did -- with melancholy and a general sense of oppression. He says the teacher can not be the only active participant in a classroom where transformative learning takes place, and leaves us with the question -- where do we go from here?

"As long as our experiences fit, or can be fit, into our existing meaning structures we tend to not engage in transformative learning." This amazing quotation from this article on Mezirow's transformational learning model sums up a very important point about how we are sometimes held back by the inability to experience discomfort. Every day people struggle in the endless quest to escape the unknown, the fearful, the unknown and when we struggle we do not change. I saw the absolute worst consequences of this concept when I worked in a day shelter for homeless and addicted individuals. 

It was interesting to see this concept in a learning model, and that the process of transformational learning is so deeply ingrained in a very personal process through dilemma to action phases. I wonder what happens to people who don't make it all the way through the phases -- I suppose they don't fully "transform" but I wonder if engaging in part of the process plants the seed and makes it easier to try again in the future. 

Finally, experiential learning is dear to me as it is the way I learn and, though I love to read and appreciate a great set of instructions, I truly appreciate the robust offering of experiential learning. This will no doubt be the ticket to my success as an instructor.

Kolb's four-stage learning model outlined here clearly demonstrates how experiential learning can
Photo courtesy of
appeal to what we know about adult learners -- being 
experience based, self-directed, learning by doing, and being externally motivated. Encouraging students through the stages -- concrete experience >> reflective observation >> abstract conceptualization >> active experimentation -- allows students to work with and implement their own experiences and knowledge and ultimately "try out" what they are learning. This is why apprenticeships work so well -- they take the theory and knowledge and give hands-on opportunities to apply this "book smart" information in the real world and under a mentor, and learn by trial and error. 

In my classroom, a practical component would be ideal -- teaching journalism students could conduct interviews, edit copy, and pitch real editors on story ideas. In trades communications, students could identify real life issues, develop a plan to address them, and move forward with the plan or components of it. 


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